Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Maura Kelly's Hatred of "Fatties"

Originally published in the BG News on Wednesday, November 3, 2010.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Onizuka3 at Creative Commons 3.0

Fat is the last safe space for hate, as evidenced by the Marie-Claire incident last week.
Freelance “journalist” Maura Kelly wrote a scathing critique for the beauty authority of the new CBS sitcom “Mike and Molly.”  The show features two lead characters, romantically involved, that are—gasp!—not thin.  Her argument was that fat people showing affection towards one another, makes everyone else uncomfortable.  And then titled the piece, “Should ‘Fatties’ Get a Room (Even on TV)?” 
Offended yet?  Just wait.  It gets better.  Kelly answers her own question:
Because being fat and occupying space is “just like” abusing substances in public-- long live the Queen of Analogy.  Kelly insists she’s not some size-ist jerk (when she is) and she understands how hard it can be (when she can’t) and goes on to discuss something she clearly does not understand as if she were an expert. 
I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.
Because being fat and occupying space is "just like" abusing substances in public. Long live the Queen of Analogy.

Kelly insists she's not some size-ist jerk (when she is) and she understands how hard being overweight can be (when she can't) and goes on to discuss something she clearly does not understand as if she were an expert.

“But ... I think obesity is something that most people have a ton of control over. It's something they can change, if only they put their minds to it,” said Kelly.

She even offers a list of suggestions for anyone who just realized they are obese—nothing like a personal attack in self-help packaging.  Receiving “diet tips” at this point is like virtual salt in an internet wound.

The story was pulled, and her statements were retracted, along with an “official” apology and the (reaching) justification that she’s struggled with anorexia in the past and has her own body image demons to battle.   
Oh.  It’s not her fault.  She has a disease that makes her hate fat-- which is why her comments came off as cruel and evil, while she, herself, is not.
Well, I still think you’re a mean girl, Maura Kelly, and I’m not buying it.
But the eating disorder rationale flirts with a popular women’s issue and has already won over some sympathetic feminists.   A few even excused Kelly’s behavior as the sad internal monologue of a sick woman and placed sole responsibility on her editors for not controlling the content of their publication.  Others thought Marie-Claire was counting on Kelly’s opinion, illness or not, sparking an online controversy, accruing page views and dollar signs.  Airing their writer’s discriminatory dirty laundry was merely a monetary trade-off.     
While these are certainly factors to be considered, Maura Kelly must be held accountable for her actions.  But more importantly, there are two very important women’s health issues that must be addressed from both sides of the discussion.  
First, eating disorders are not about weight.  According to the National Eating Disorder Association, “People with eating disorders often use food and the control of food in an attempt to compensate for feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem over-whelming. For some, dieting, bingeing, and purging may begin as a way to cope with painful emotions and to feel in control of one’s life, but ultimately, these behaviors will damage a person’s physical and emotional health, self-esteem, and sense of competence and control.” 

Many feminists believe more than 5 million women suffer from eating disorders as a response to the sexism and injustice they experience in their daily lives, not just media images that tell them to be thin.   

To be sure, anorexia is more about personal feelings of inadequacy that manifest in physically obvious ways than an overall fear of fat.  And symptoms have never included hateful word vomit about other people’s size.

Secondly, there are several misconceptions surrounding fat.  For starters, fat is not necessarily unhealthy.  Plenty of people are active and strong, meeting other requirements of health beyond visible muscle definition.  And fat is not a choice.  Most of our physical characteristics are genetically predetermined.  But society has been duped by a very lucrative diet industry that tells us we can practically think ourselves thin, as long as we’re using the right products.  Lastly, fat is not a consequence of over-eating or punishment for being lazy. 

A complex issue has been over-simplified and people have been empowered to make unfair assumptions about the lifestyles of strangers.  By medicalizing fat, we’ve created a platform for judgment and enabled the last form of discrimination tolerated by the majority.  Which is why Maura Kelly thought she had the authority to say those horrible things about Mike, Molly and everyone else that doesn’t fit her small-ish mold.   

There’s a movement to use the word fat instead of overweight, because overweight implies that somewhere there is a perfect weight that we should all aspire to be.  However, the word “fatty” is obviously insulting and wrong.  And many people take liberties with the word obese, which also creates a narrow depiction of health.  Kelly’s choice to use both, almost interchangeably, is telling of her overall contempt for a considerable percentage of our population. 

But while testing and terminology is being reconfigured, no one deserves criticism for being “aesthetically displeasing,” because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And when someone chooses to use derogatory language, like “fatties,” they’re saying more about themselves and the fact that they’re a size-ist jerk.


  1. I also felt her apology was a bit lacking. Almost like she was expecting more people to agree with her, and then felt awkward when they didn' she decided it was best to just 'apologize and get it over with'...

  2. Seriously. I don't care if she starved herself until she was on her death bed. That does not excuse hate speech-- especially in a public forum. It's not like she wrote it with her friends in a "burn book." It's Marie Claire. I mean, I totally agree with The Frisky's interpretation that controversy meant readers, and that's why editor's let it slip through, but I feel no pity for Maura Kelly.